Rebecca L. Davis is the Miller Family Early Career Professor of History at the University of Delaware, with a joint appointment in the Department of Women and Gender Studies. She is the author of More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss (2010), a history of how marriage counseling shaped twentieth-century American religion, social science, and gender politics. Her latest book, Public Confessions: The Religious Conversions that Changed American Politics, will be published Fall 2021 by UNC Press. She is also the co-editor of Heterosexual Histories (with Michele Mitchell). Her current book project is Sex in America (Liveright). Davis serves as a producer and the story editor for the Sexing History podcast. A former postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, she was a visiting fellow there during the 2016–2017 academic year.
Since World War II, Americans have debated whether identity is something a person can choose or if it is assigned at birth. Looking at notable conversions, including those of Muhammad Ali (who famously said, "I'm free to be who I want to be") this talk explores how we have come to use the language of faith to authenticate narratives of self-transformation. In a world of "fake news" and with a "reality" TV star in the White House, this recent history of Americans' ideas about faith, politics, and sincerity is more important than ever.